Big three ensure golf thriving in post-Woods era
The last two majors should emphasise how remarkable it was that Jordan Spieth won the first two. Consider the numbers.
Spieth was only the fourth player since 1960 who went to the Open with a chance to win the third leg of the Grand Slam. He was 14-under par at St Andrews, a number topped only five previous times at golf’s oldest championship.
This year, it didn’t even get him into a play-off.
Then, he went to the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits with a chance to join Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods as the only players to win three majors in one year. Spieth lived up to the occasion by posting 17-under par. In the 57 years of stroke play at the PGA Championship, only two players were more shots under par. Woods beat Bob May in a play-off after they finished 18 under (they were five shots clear of everyone else), and Woods was 18 under when he won at Medinah in 2006.
Spieth wound up three shots behind Jason Day.
Don’t feel sorry for Spieth without considering the plight of Justin Rose. He was 14 under at the Masters. He was 14 under at the PGA Championship. And he finished a combined ten shots off the lead.
“I thought 14-under par would be great,” Rose said on Sunday at Whistling Straits. “Actually, it’s ironic that’s what I finished on, but I thought that would be a winning score.”
It was only good for fourth place.
The theme coming out of the 2015 majors is that golf is in a good spot in the post-Tiger era. Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Day are Nos 1-2-3 in the world, and they have combined to win five of the last six majors. Day is the old man in the group. He’s 27.
Woods had a revolving door of rivals for more than a decade. He was No.1 even when the math said otherwise. Now there is a chance for a lasting rivalry, or rivalries. There already is talk of a modern “Big Three,” though it’s still too early for that.
“We live in such a world that everything is so reactionary, and everything happens so quickly,” McIlroy said at the start of the PGA. “A year ago after I won this tournament, it was the Rory era. And then Jordan wins the Masters and it’s the Jordan era. Eras last about six months these days instead of 20 years.”
And that leads to another number worth considering.
With a bunker shot that only Spieth could make look easy, he birdied the 16th hole at Whistling Straits and closed with two pars to break by one shot the record Woods set in 2000. Spieth ended the year at 54 under in the four majors.
Some context is in order.
Spieth matched the 72-hole record at Augusta National (18 under) on a much stronger course than when Woods set the mark in 1997.
Woods, however, won three majors that year, and he won the US Open and British Open by a combined 23 shots. Anyone who stood near the 18th green at Pebble Beach and gazed at that large leaderboard, with Woods at 12 under and no one else better than 3 over, will appreciate it as the greatest performance in major championship history.
Spieth’s major season still doesn’t touch what Woods did in 2000, or Hogan in 1953 when he won all three majors he played.
The low scores Spieth posted were required to even have a chance at the majors, except for his four-shot win at Augusta. Spieth knows that.
Sure, he was one shot off a play-off at St Andrews. He also was a 12-foot eagle putt by Dustin Johnson from having to settle for only a Green Jacket this year.
Louis Oosthuizen, with a sweet swing and a fragile back, was one shot behind at the US Open and lost in a play-off at St. Andrews. Day missed out on the St Andrews play-off by one shot and smashed his way to his first major at Whistling Straits. A year ago, the challenge to McIlroy came from Rickie Fowler, the only player to finish among the top five in all the majors without winning. He won the so-called fifth major this year at The Players Championship with an eagle-birdie-birdie finish.
The depth is greater than ever. Anyone paying attention to golf the last two years could see that, and this year in the majors it was undeniable.
McIlroy won three straight tournaments last year – two majors and a World Golf Championship – and he finished the year as the winner or runner-up in eight of his last 12 events. The only question was finding a suitable rival for the best player in the world.
Nine months later, he was No 2 and Spieth already has been installed as the favourite at the Masters next year, though only slightly over McIlroy.
It’s a shame we have to wait 233 days for the next major, but the big picture seems to have no downside at all.
“What I’m looking forward to is the sheer competition of being able to fight against these guys each week and have that competition and fight against them,” Day said.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun over the next five to ten years.”